May 02, 2013

Perch Hill 2013

Some of you, who kindly pop over to my patch here now and again, might know I am on the writing team for Sarah Raven's  blog, Garlic and Sapphire. Last weekend we were invited to visit her garden at Perch Hill, have a guided tour of the gardens, lunch, a Q and A with Sarah and a chat about plans for the blog. Well, yes please! So on Saturday I tootled off, early early doors, to the Sussex Weald. It felt like a bit of a pilgrimage - not simply because of the seven hours and six trains it required to get there and back, but because my empty patch of field ten years ago and Sarah's books about growing cut flowers is where Wild Acre really all began.


It is difficult to put into words the experience of visiting Perch Hill, after seeing so many pictures of it and reading so much copy. The overall feeling for me, was of a verdant little plot nestled in almost Arcadian folds of still heavily wooded farming country. The house is far smaller and wonkier than I imagined, the outbuildings more beautiful and more rustic,



but it is the views from the sloping gardens that, for me, made the whole place sing. In places the vistas are open and dreamlike, in others the eye is cleverly drawn to little viewing points through arches in hedging and open door ways. These garden boundaries are something I am fascinated and entranced by in any garden - the way cultivation gives way to nature, the hazy blending of nature tamed and organised in a garden brought right up close to open countryside. These 'open' gardens are mainly the type I have grown up with - ones that have only a fence as demarcation, where views are borrowed and filched from open land. It is quite something to be in a garden, yet have a distant horizon upon which one's thoughts are allowed to dance and regroup, often settled and invigorated all at once. I know garden 'rooms' - all hidden away between green walls of yew or the like are terribly fashionable, and they do often show off the flowers most intensely, but for me they often feel slightly claustraphobic and overly contrived. I can appreciate their brilliance, but my heart is most moved by those with open vistas. At Perch Hill the blend is perfection.




Spring is about five weeks behind at Perch Hill, like it is most places in the UK, so the garden was looking more mid March like - but what daffs, tulips and euphorbias to be seen, bliss!






Neat beds of salads and herbs to only dream of!



What I hadn't fully appreciated until Sarah explained it, is that Perch Hill, apart from being their home of course, is really a big experiment in seeing how much productivity, (of the most beautiful flowers and tasty produce), can be fitted into a purposely confined amount of space. There is after all a 90 acre farm, so the gardens could easily be expanded in scale, but it was so interesting to see how excited Sarah was about the idea of making a garden plot (as opposed to a farm) as productive as possible - and marrying that with finding the most fabulous performing plants. Sarah has been both a doctor and a florist in previous careers and the scientist and artist are both in evidence here - there is huge attention to colour and composition but at its heart it is really all about efficient, lavish productivity. This is clearly where her heart beats -  practical research in a real, working plot rather than a simply a beautiful show garden. To these ends, she is making both an art and science out of successional planting, underplanting of larger specimens with lower growing ones and lasagna like layering of bulbs, veg and annuals. It is all properly fascinating. I loved the way she grows salads between rows of bulbs, but with her florist's eye for colour and form. There is also now a cookery school too.



I could go on and on, but if you are interested in reading about the whole, suprisingly nittygritty story behind their move to Perch Hill and subsequent years creating what it is today, Sarah's husband, Adam Nicolson has written a beautiful book called The Smell of Summer Grass. That man can write with such unsparing honesty combined with a certain poetic idealism that you can really feel the rawness of the successes and failures they have lived through, and the reasons they have been so committed to it.  If you would like to see Perch Hill for yourself, there are open days and all sorts of day courses through the year, you can check the website here.

It was a wonderful day, and fabulous to meet two other members of the team who were delightful and have really interesting jobs as a floral writer and blogger and a food writer - check out their amazing blogs Flowerona and Lavender and Lovage. We got time to chat over the most delicious lunch prepared with veggies, herbs and salads from the garden - it was really lovely to spend time with them as well as the wonderful Alissa, who runs Sarah's social media/web department and keeps us all in order! Thanks for arranging such a great day for us, Alissa.


Oh and there was this. Green as a shepherd's hut with envy!



(this isn't a sponsored post, no affiliated links, all views my own!)

18 comments:

  1. Hi Belinda

    What a wonderful blog post and beautiful images!

    It was really lovely to meet you on Saturday.

    Thank you very much for the mention and I look forward to keeping in contact via your blog & Twitter.

    Very best wishes
    Rona

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So nice to meet you Rona, look forward to keeping in touch. x

      Delete
  2. Hello Belinda
    Wow - I'm surprised you haven't been to Perch Hill before! Since I lived reasonably close I've been honoured to visit a number of times and attend a course. You have captured the essence of the garden so brilliantly. I love the drive through the Kent countryside - and then you come across Perch Hill almost by chance - once you find the correct winding lane...... It's been such a joy to see your photographs today - the tulips are always such a joy there.....
    Thanks for sharing with us!
    Karen

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Karen, yes it is insane that I haven't been before, but it is a nightmare to get to from here - 6 trains, a car journey and cab! 7 hrs plus! Worth every second though, loved it. x

      Delete
  3. oh heaven!
    Did you drive there and back in a day? Next time, tea at mine ~ I insist, we are just up the road. The oast garden is my favourite spot and as for the shepherd's hut...F-I-G-H-T! te he,
    Sarah -x-x-x-

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. arghgh, I didn't know you were so close - would have bothered you for a cuppa! ;) It is a major slog to get to from north herts, so if I ever go again I would love to add on a visit to the Lane! xx oh that shepherd's hut!!

      Delete
  4. How gorgeous.. I LOVE Perch Hill.. I went on one of Sarah's courses a few years back which was fabulous. We used to live in Robertsbrige which is where the railway station is you probably came in to? Miss the Sussex Weald. S x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really is like stepping back in time in the Weald isn't it, so glad to see corners of England so undisturbed.

      Delete
  5. Such a fabulous post and beautiful photos! I hope to take one of Sarah's class this year and see her gorgeous property. I'm inspired :) I know Miss Flowerona too - small world and great gal!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I loved this post and your enthusiasm for Sarah's patch. She has my full admiration for what has been achieved at Perch Hill. Lovely photos too.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Oh goodness, I've had dreams of visiting Perchill for years!

    It's Sarah's books that first pointed me in the right direction, helped instill an attitude of "can do" and also opened my eyes to what can be done on a tiny plot of land.

    From her encouragement, we've taken two miniature acres and grown a thriving business and flower farm.

    Someday.....I hope to finally get to visit Perch Hill in person.

    Thanks a million for the tour : )

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, you lucky duck! I'd love to visit. Your photos are wonderful -- those beautifully spaced lettuce are to die for! (Makes note!)

    ReplyDelete
  9. What a beautiful garden. I love your photographs- it must have been a fantastic day! Jane x

    ReplyDelete
  10. What a fascinating blog. I would love to visit Perch Hill but it is such a long way from us in North Wales that I can't yet work out how to make it happen. Your description of the integration of the garden and the surrounding landscape is one of my big questions up here for my own garden, where the views are so fabulous they cannot be shut out but sometimes feel to dominate the garden. Your pictures catch something which is what I am after but can't work out how to do! I must go, and read the book!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Belinda, you inspire me more each time I visit your bountiful blog, you are gifted and capture the essence wonderfully. When is the book released ??
    Honestly I am waiting in the wings!

    ReplyDelete
  12. Your photos are beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've read most of Adam Nicolson's books, but have never been particularly moved to visit Sarah's garden, until reading this fabulous post :)

    ReplyDelete
  14. A LOVELY blog post Belinda and it was great to meet you finally.....Karen

    ReplyDelete